Ex-newscaster and author Duncan Watt dies of cancer at 74

Duncan Watt read the Channel 5 news for 16 years in the 80s and 90s. Friends at his wake yesterday remembered him as a humble man with vast knowledge of history, classical music and nature.
Duncan Watt read the Channel 5 news for 16 years in the 80s and 90s. Friends at his wake yesterday remembered him as a humble man with vast knowledge of history, classical music and nature.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
Duncan Watt read the Channel 5 news for 16 years in the 80s and 90s. Friends at his wake yesterday remembered him as a humble man with vast knowledge of history, classical music and nature.
Duncan Watt read the Channel 5 news for 16 years in the 80s and 90s. Friends at his wake yesterday remembered him as a humble man with vast knowledge of history, classical music and nature.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Former newscaster Duncan Watt, whose face and voice became familiar to Singaporeans in the 80s and 90s, has died at the age of 74.

Also an author known for his Wallace Boys series for young teenagers, Watt died of liver cancer on Thursday.

Born near Victoria Falls in what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, the only child of British parents travelled to more than 80 countries around the world. But he fell in love with Singapore after visiting it as a backpacker in 1969, and finally settled down here in 1976.

He worked as a teacher and administrator at the British Council until he retired in 1992.

For 16 years, he read the prime time news on Channel 5 for the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. He also hosted an afternoon programme on Symphony 92.4, playing light classics, until 2004.

The 20-book Wallace Boys series he wrote centred on the adventures of brothers Nigel and Bruce Wallace in far-flung places such as Kariba, Zimbabwe, the Skeleton Coast and the Scottish Highlands.

Some were based in South-east Asia, such as The Treasure Of The Tiger (1994), in which the boys visit Singapore and find themselves on the trail of a sunken ship with the lost treasure of World War II Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita.

He researched the locations for his books as thoroughly as possible, making it a point not to write anything he himself had not experienced. According to his online biography, he took up scuba diving to write Treasure, and got covered in leeches in Malaysian rainforest reserve Taman Negara while researching for The Pagodas Of Pahang.

By the early 2000s, his books had sold about 50,000 copies. They are no longer in print.

Friends at his wake yesterday remembered him as a humble man with a dry sense of humour and vast reams of knowledge on history, classical music and nature.

His partner, retail adviser Hanafi Arsal, 44, recalled how on walks, Watt could name almost any plant or animal he saw by its scientific name. Friends also remembered how he loved teaching and would give free talks at schools about animal conservation and writing skills.

American retiree John Howard, 74, a friend of Watt since 1975, said: "He was a very strong educator. He loved to nurture people."

Diagnosed with liver cancer in June last year, Watt remained "determined and upbeat", said lawyer Allan Tan, 52, who had known him for 30 years.

Watt started running in 2003 at the age of 60, doing six to seven marathons a year. As recently as this April, he managed a 26km three-day run around Bedok despite the pain from his condition.

He was admitted to hospital following a fall two weeks ago in the Bedok condominium where he lived alone, and died in a hospice on Thursday afternoon.

Though barely conscious in his final days, he held Mr Tan and Mr Hanafi's hands the night before his death and said: "Thank you."

He leaves behind no next of kin besides a cousin in South Africa, whom his friends have not been able to contact.

His final send-off will be at the Mandai Crematorium today, to the strains of the music of his favourite composer Ivor Novello. His friends hope to take his ashes back to Zambia, where he was born.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-newscaster and author Duncan Watt dies of cancer at 74'. Print Edition | Subscribe